CLAREMORE, Okla. - Students are moving back onto campus at Rogers State University in Claremore ahead of classes starting on Monday.
While students settle into their new rooms, school leaders hope they find some comfort learning about an additional security feature in a new facility that opens this year.
University officials held what they called a "soft opening" Friday for the new Chapman Dining Hall. Cafeteria workers served food to school leaders, professors and community members to show off the $5 million facility. RSU president, Dr. Larry Rice, called the new dining hall a "game changer" for the ever-growing campus.
"As we add more residential beds on campus," Dr. Rice said, "we had to build this to meet those needs."
RSU currently has about 500 students living on campus in its two residence halls. Crews are in the midst of constructing another residence hall that will house 300 more students next year. Chapman Dining Hall will provide enough space to feed the growing student population as well as give them some additional protection if an emergency should arise.
"We thought living in Oklahoma, you needed an underground facility for your students," Dr. Rice said.
School leaders decided to build a basement under the dining hall, which will serve as a storm shelter capable of holding more than 800 people.
"It brings a great deal of comfort to the students and the parents knowing that just right next to their residence hall, they have a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week shelter that they can access from inside or outside," Dr. Rice said.
RSU mostly used private donations to fund construction of the new dining hall and the 7,000 square foot basement. School leaders even received money to buy a generator that could power the facility during an outage.
"We'll be able to serve students a hot meal in here and provide a safe and warm, and in some cases a cool, atmosphere," Dr. Rice said.
Students said they are excited to finally have a dining hall on campus that not only gives them more food options but also can keep them safe.
"If there is an emergency where we need a storm shelter, (the dining hall) is very close and accessible, so I'm definitely glad that we have that there," said sophomore Parker Sauvageau.
Schools leaders said the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., did not prompt them to build a storm shelter in the new dining hall. They said their plans included this new safety feature from the beginning.